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My Blueberry Nights (Wong Kar-Wai, 2007)
After most of its decidedly mixed Cannes audience pegged it as a misfire, it's heartening to discover that My Blueberry Nights, the first American feature from preeminent Hong Kong stylist Wong Kar-Wai, is less an overt misstep than a sidestep into shallower waters. The first moment a line of awkward dialogue is spoken, itís easy to see how any absurdly heightened expectations at the Festival were crushed, but the film works well on its own terms. The first actís extended meet cute between a British diner owner (Jude Law) and one of his customers (Norah Jones) immediately clues the audience in that Wong isnít trying to conquer the world this time out, but to discount the film's obvious pleasures because of this would be foolish. From the start, itís abundantly clear that Wong hasnít made an art film, but there's plenty of artistry on display here nonetheless.
The gorgeous cinematography, handled by Darius Khondji, is about as rapturous as that in any of Wong's movies, the last two of which could each qualify as the decadeís very finest. The initial scene, for example, is set in a cramped cafe. It's shot around door jambs and through windows, with a camera that's bobbing around more often than not. The approach is intoxicating. It immediately establishes the mood of bruised romanticism that has defined the director's films to date. This is a good thing, too, as the story almost immediately dips into a quirky, sentimental, slightly goofy series of anecdotes involving lost keys, bloody noses, and the titular blueberry pies. It's not exactly bad material for a film, but it's somewhat disappointing to know that Wong would choose to expend his considerable talents on something so slight. When heartbreak sets the film's heroine on the road, the movie settles into a pattern in which she becomes a sounding board for a series of hardened hearts. Remarkably, at this point My Blueberry Nights grows even less substantial.
The casting of Norah Jones in the lead role was probably the biggest risk involved in this project, but she reveals herself to be an immensely attractive screen presence, completely capable of carrying the movie in her doleful eyes. It's only when the focus shifts onto one of the other characters that attention wavers. Thankfully, however, Wongís intoxicating style never lets up. Following the tone set in the first sequence, subsequent scenes see the director experimenting with different ways to fragment the frame or expressively occlude our vision. Slow-motion sequences and flattering lighting make everything look better than reality ever could. The soundtrack sweeps as pop songs repeat. Smoke swirls around a series of beautiful faces. It's tough not to get at least a little caught up in it all. Ultimately, My Blueberry Nights is prettier than any romantic comedy this side of Punch Drunk Love. To complain that it is hardly a film that shows Wong at the height of his power is to close oneself off to the small, somewhat lovely pleasures that it manages to offer. Everyone should flounder as beautifully as Wong has here.